“Well, you never know…you just never know. You just go along figuring some things don’t change ever, like being able to drive on a public highway without someone trying to murder you. And then one stupid thing happens. Twenty, twenty-five minutes out of your whole life, and all the ropes that kept you hanging in there get cut loose, and it’s like, there you are, right back in the jungle again. All right boy, it was a nightmare, but it’s over now… It’s all over.” (David Mann in the Steven Spielberg movie, Duel)
Except…. it wasn’t over. In fact, David Mann’s day-long battle with a crazed trucker had just begun. And so, also, did his terrifying initiation into a new level of manhood.
David drives a Plymouth Valiant, a vehicle whose name depicts the more mature personality he is meant to attain. He fills his gas tank with “Ethyl,” which sounds like the woman’s name, Ethel. This is no accident, for it is clear from the start of the film that David is an overly submissive husband who has difficulty asserting himself. We could say that he runs on too much feminine energy, not enough masculine. His license plate reads, 149PCE. The letters here are also symbolic. David wants peace in his life and is overly avoidant of confrontation and conflict. He whines, reasons and pleads with people in an effort to win their agreement, approval or support. “Let’s all be nice, polite, and civil” would be his social mantra.
Like many of us, David isn’t prepared for the dark side of life—for its killing, antisocial and predatory forces. Too much a modern man, he is cut off from his ancestral and animal self. He is too domesticated and instinctually dumbed-down. Civilization has many gifts, but one of its drawbacks is its tendency to estrange individuals from their instincts. For example, we trust that society will keep the predatory forces more or less in check. We expect people to be civil. We hope that our security alarms, the police, fire department or military will do our protecting and fighting for us. But the psyche also wants individuals that know how to fight and protect themselves, not just physically, but psychologically and spiritually. In this movie, the psyche wants David Mann to become a man, by standing up for himself and being ready to fight. If he is going to survive the jungle, David must access the intuitive wisdom and strength of his inner ape.
An intriguing question raised by Duel concerns the force represented by the anonymous trucker. At first reflection the trucker seems to embody evil due to his recklessness and unprovoked homicidality. However, the trucker never kills David. What he does do is push him over the edge of his own comfort zone. He forces David to recognize raw lethality and fight for his life.
In his book, The Shaman’s Body, psychologist Arnold Mindell talks about the “ally.” The ally, which most often appears in dreams as a person or an animal, is that part of the psyche which acts as a guide or helper in your journey of psychological and spiritual growth. Sometimes, as in this case, the ally may play the role of nemesis, or provocateur, pushing you to defend, pursue, or fight for something of great importance, such as the development of your talents and gifts.
David Mann saw his pursuer as an evil force, which is how our ego views most things that pose a threat to its well-laid plans. Paradoxically, though, the trucker helped David to become a man. He returned David to the “jungle,” reconnected him to his instincts, and helped him to feel fully alive and heroic again. It was an invaluable gift delivered in a most-unlikely package. The movie illustrates that what the ego sees as evil, the psyche may see as an opportunity for grace. For this reason, in times of personal trial or danger, it is important to ask, “Is this evil, or is it my ally?”
[The Shaman’s Body: A New Shamanism for Transforming Health, Relationships, and the Community. Arnold Mindell, 1993. HarperCollins Publishers, NY: NY.]